1865 April 15: Battles of White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks, and Third Petersburg
The Prescott Journal ran a lengthy article on the early battles of the Appomattox Campaign in its April 15, 1865, issue. This is the first half of the article; the second portion will be posted tomorrow.
|Overview of Appomattox Campaign|
|Wednesday||March 29||Battle of Lewis’s Farm|
|Friday||March 31||Battle of White Oak Road¹; Battle of Dinwiddie Court House|
|Saturday||April 1||Battle of Five Forks|
|Sunday||April 2||3rd Battle of/Fall of Petersburg; Battle of Sutherland’s Station|
|Monday||April 3||Battle of Namozine Church|
|Wednesday||April 5||Battle of Amelia Springs (5-6)|
|Thursday||April 6||Battle of Rice’s Station; Battle of Sailor’s (Sayler’s) Creek|
|Friday||April 7||Battle of High Bridge; Battle of Cumberland Church|
|Saturday||April 8||Battle of Appomattox Station|
|Sunday||April 9||Battle of Appomattox Court House and surrender of Lee|
[Battle of White Oak Road]
NEW YORK, April 3.
The Tribune’s specials give the following account of Friday’s fighting:
“At day break a movement was made to secure a position to advance upon the enemy, covering the White Oak road, the object being to possess that road, which intersects the Clairborne road leading to the South Side R. R. At 8 o’clock Ayres’ division [Romeyn B. Ayres], supported by Crawford’s [Samuel W. Crawford] and Gibbon’s [John Gibbon], advanced and immediately met resistance from the rebel skirmishers, who were pushed back within a mile of the White Oak road. At this junction the enemy massed and with their usual yell charged.
“At one o’clock Miles’ division [Nelson Miles] was ordered to strike the enemy on the left flank, while the fifth corps again essayed to get possession of the White Oak road, by advancing simultaneously. The 5th corps moved upon the enemy, who stubbornly held his ground for some time, when rapid volleys from the right and the loud cheer of the successful issue of Miles’ attack on the rebel flank as he rolled up the enemy’s line, now broken, routed and falling back, incontinently followed by Warren’s 5th corps [Gouverneur K. Warren], which was soon in possession of the coveted road.
“The field showed on every hand traces of sanguinary conflict. Huge pines were cut down by shot and the ground over which Miles swept down en echelon on the enemy’s flank was covered with rebel dead.
“While this was going on, heavy skirmishing was taking place on our lines as far as Hatcher’s Run and our troops in that direction were advanced several hundred yards and entrenched, while the sharp shooters were engaged silencing the rebel battery.”
[Battle of Dinwiddie Court House]
Of the cavalry fight on Friday the Times‘ special says:
“At one o’clock P. M. Smith’s brigade of Crook’s division resting on Stony Creek, was west of Dunwiddie C. H., supported by Gregg, Davies and Fitzhugh’s brigades, the latter facing west and covering a place near Stony Creek, where five roads come together, known as the ‘five forks,’ held by the enemy, and which we tried to take the day before but did not for obvious reasons. Stagg’s Michigan brigade was in position on Gravelly Branch, and a portion of Gibbs’ brigade was in reserve. [Charles H. Smith, George R. Crook, J. Irvin Gregg, Henry E. Davies, Jr., Charles L. Fitzhugh, Peter Stagg, and Alfred Gibbs]
“At 6 P.M. the enemy attacked Smith in considerable force, but unsuccessfully. An hour later Maj Robbins [Walter R. Robbins], of Davies Brigade, holding the bridge over Stony Creek, with a battalion of the New Jersey 1st, was attacked and driven slowly back to their brigade. At this juncture the enemy moved three columns across the creek at three points, and at once with superior numbers, was enabled to flank Davies’ brigade, after a stubborn fight with the advancing column in front.
“Other commands at once changed their respective positions to meet the change of affairs. The fight continued until about 5 o’clock, P. M., at which time the enemy had cut off Deveno, with Smith and Fitz Hugh’s [sic] brigades, and forced them back in a northeasrerly [sic] direction to the Boydtown plank road, a little east of north from Dunwiddie, and on which this portion of the command, during the evening moved to that place.
“Gibbs’ brigade for a long time held its position, and made two successful charges, in one of which the 1st United States, Capt. Lord [Richard S. C. Lord], and the 1st Pennsylvania, drive the enemy’s strong line of infantry, and captured about 100 men. During this charge, several hundred of the rebels threw down their arms, and attempted to rush into our lines. Unfortunately, the movement was not generally opened into them. This caused a hesitation, long enough for their officers to cover them with fire from the rear.”
“When Custar [sic: George A. Custer] went to the scene of action, the wildest excitement prevailed. Capehart [Charles E. Capehart] had his brigade on the left, and Pennington [Alexander C. M. Pennington] on the right, and before anything to fight behind could be put up, the enemy came swarming out of the woods, as if confident of demolishing everything before them. Custar [sic] and his men were received with cheers. He instantly set Capehart’s bands to playing ‘Hail Columbia,’ and other patriotic pieces. This revived the spirits of all present, and the music brought forth cheers from thousands of wearied men.
“As the enemy opened upon the line, Gens. Sheridan [Philip H. Sheridan] and Custar [sic] with their staff officers rode along the line with their respective colors displayed. This demonstration elicited renewed enthusiasm along the whole line, and by the time this was over a heavy fire had been opened with artillery accompanied by Lord and Woodford’s guns. The enemy charged several times and were repulsed with great slaughter.”
“Capehart saw one of his regiments, the 1st Virginia, dashing off, not having given the order, he followed, and found Gen. Merritt [Wesley Merritt] and Col. Forsyth [James W. Forsyth] of Sheridan’s staff, and others at the head of the regiment. The enemy fell back hastily before these troops, and did not attempt to again force our line.
“The result of Friday’s fighting, says the Times‘ correspondent, was, we swung the left round three miles north of the Boydtown plank road, leaving between it and the South Side railroad but a single line of breastworks thrown up. We have captured about a 1,000 prisoners, and our own loss is not over 2,000 in aggregate. enemy suffered much more heavily and their forces were becoming demoralized very rapidly in the evening, and he could not be induced to make another charge on the 5th corps’ front, although they had fought desperately early in the day.”
HEAD QUARTERS POTOMAC ARMY, April 1.
The greater portion of this army has not been engaged with the enemy to-day. The time has been occupied in erecting works on the new line, and repairing the roads connecting the different corps. The late rains had rendered it almost impossible to move the wagon trains as fast as the troops advanced. One train took 48 hours to move 5 miles, with the assistance of 10,000 men, but through the untiring industry and perseverance of the officers in charge of the quartermaster and commissary departments, the army has been as well supplied as when in the old quarters.
When the news of Sheridan’s repulse reached here last night, a part of the 5th corps was at once despatched to his aid, and it is expected that to-night or in the morning we shall receive good news from that quarter. It appears that Sheridan was moving on the road leading to a place called the “Five Forks,” about three miles from the South Side railroad, where two cavalry brigades of Picket’s division, which had been moved out in a great hurry, came down on a road running from Sutherland Station. As Sheridan’s cavalry had most of them passed the junction, the movement of the enemy threatened to cut him off. He, however, discovered his danger in time to get his command back, with only a slight loss, at the same time taking 100 prisoners. Both the Lees were spectators, but one of them kept a respectful distance.
On being reinforced this morning by the 5th Corps, the enemy fell back so rapidly that their dead and many of their wounded fell into our hands, as well as those of our won that were unavoidably left behind yesterday afternoon. The attack made on the enemy’s line in front of the 24th Corps was by Foster’s division, and about 200 prisoners were brought in, the 148th New York taking most of them. Some 300 or 400 yards of ground was taken from our picket lines. At 4. M. this morning this position was assaulted and a few of our men captured, but in a very short time it was retaken, with about 60 prisoners and a stand of colors. Our losses up to the present time will not exceed 2,500, while that of the enemy in some parts of the line at least was greater than our own, but of course the total cannot be given.
NEW YORK, April 4.
Of Saturday’s operations, the Tribune‘s correspondence says :
“At 7 A. M. the 5th Corps was again in motion, passing by the left along White Oak road to join Sheridan, executing the difficult movement of marching by flank in the presence of the enemy, withdrawing divisions in the rear of each other and marching them off successively from right to left, the left division (Crawford’s) executing some movements by brigade.
“While this was taking place, the 2d Corps moved toward White Oak road by a more direct route, and established connection with the right of the 5th Corps.
“Meanwhile Sheridan with four divisions, passing around the left of the whole army, went through Dinwiddle C. H., toward the South Side Railroad, with his usual rapidity. The force which drove Crawford and Ayres across Gravelly Run, however, at once turned their attention to him, moving rapidly to the right, and after a desperate conflict he also was forced back within a mile of Dinwiddle C. H., but soon, joined by Warren’s corps, he again took the offensive, and in turn drove the enemy, captured a position know as ‘Five Forks’ together with about 4000 prisoners and several batteries of artillery.
“He was then joined by Miles’ division of the 2d corps and pushed westward for the Southside railroad. This he soon reached and took position upon it. The 5th corps, supporting cavalry also took 15 guns and about 2000 prisoners, enabling Sheridan to drive back the force which on Friday afternoon checked his advance near Dinwiddle Court House.
“On receiving this news, it was determined to give the enemy no time to send troops to the right, and at once a simultaneous attack was ordered along the lines, by the 9th, 6th, 24th and 2d corps. An order was given about 9 0’clock at night, and in less than an hour a furious battle began on the rebel entrenchments in front. Three several charges, resulted in the enemy’s being driven in from their front into their second line of works, with the loss of over 5,000 prisoners, several forts, and about 20 pieces of artillery.
“The 2d corps were engaged all day in their front, and in spite of the terrible fire of musketry poured into their ranks behind their works, succeeded in maintaining their new lines several hundred yards in advance of the line they occupied in the morning.
“The 24th corps occupied the center of our line, its left connecting with the 2d at Hatcher’s Run and its right going tot eh left of the 6th corps. Before daylight Sunday morning the rebels made a furious assault on the position of this line, driving a portion of the 3d brigade from their breast works and capturing about 100. Their success however did not last long, the 20th Pennsylvania by a gallant charge driving them beyond their first battle line.
“A sharp fire was kept up all day by both sides. Owing to the hot fire by our sharp shooters the enemy was unable to work his guns, consequently very few casualties occurred to our side from shells. Our boys however rained incessant fire into their intrenchments.
“There was little fighting in front of the 6th Corps till night, when considerably shelling occurred. Quiet also reigned in front of the 9th Corps.
“So matters stood until 10 o’clock, when the 2d Corps was startled into a sharper attention by a few shots on their front swelling into rattling volleys. The boys joined in the clamor, firing spread rapidly to the front of the 24th Corps and on to the 6th, thence away till it reached the 9th about 11 o’clock, at which time the fighting was at its height.
“Presently cheers broke out on the front of the 2d as the fire slackened. By 2:30 the fire had nearly ceased along the whole line, but at 4 in the morning it suddenly broke out again nearer than ever to the 2d Corps, while sharp artillery practice was heard far to the right, and again the crash of battle spread from end to end of the line.
“At 6 o’clock the battle was raging fiercely, but our colors are advancing all along the line.”
The World‘s correspondence recounts the attack on the Petersburg defences :
“It was to take place on Friday morning at 4 o’clock, but the failure on the left was doubtless the cause of the postponement. The plan of this last phase of the action was ties : Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] on reception of the news of Sheridan’s victory at ‘Five Forks,’ immediately despatched couriers in conjunction with the telegraph leading to his headquarters, to each of the corps commanders, directing them, without loss of time, to open with both artillery and infantry upon the works of Petersburg.
“Sheridan, it will be remembered, attained his success by half-past seven Saturday night. At nine Grant heard of it, and before ten our columns had passed the picket line and were on their way to the rebel intrenchments—Parke on the right [John G. Parke], Wright in the centre [Horatio G. Wright], and Ord on the left [Edward O.C. Ord]—marched almost at the same instant.
“The 6th, Wright’s, was arrayed in line of battle, and without ceremony they threw themselves en masse into the ditch and up the parapet. The contest was short, terrible and desperate. Hand to hand conflict occurred. The deadly bayonet lunge, the impulsive and fitful clashes of musket, the crossing of awards, the valley now and then, when our men poured an enfilading fire down the inside of the parapet, the yells and groans, the galloping of couriers to and fro from end to end of the lines. In places the ditches were heaped with living and dying combatants, tumbled together promiscuously, but every now and then Northern cheers told how the conflict went on each side of the 6th corps.
“The scene was the same opposite Fort Hell. The rebels had a fort called Fort Heaven, at which they fought like Satan’s legions.”
[Battle of Five Forks]
The World has a graphic account of Sheridan’s battle of “Five Forks,” which was the turning point in the great conflict and which under Sheridan’s generalship will take rank with anything on record. It appears that Grant was not satisfied with the day’s business on Friday and placed Sheridan in supreme command of the whole of Warren’s corps and all the cavalry. Sheridan at once maneuvered with his cavalry, dismounting a portion in front of the rebels and gradually pressed them back into their works under the most terrific fighting of the war. While this was being done, and done slowly by order, Sheridan set about forming the infantry, showing the same genius of infantry tactics that he has in cavalry. It was marvelous to see so paltry a force of cavalry press back and hold in check 16,000 rebel infantry. Still they did it, and in such an manner as to completely hide the movement of our infantry. They were driven back step by step into their works. Then the signal was given and the infantry closed on the works like a huge barn door. The rebels saw their situation but did not appear to appreciate how desperate were their circumstances. They fell back to the left only to see four close lines of battle waiting to drive them across the field. At the right horsemen charged them in their vain attempt to fight out, and in their rear foot and cavalry began to assemble. Slant-fire, cross-fire and direct fire by file and volley, rolled perpetually, cutting down upon them, slashing and trampling them into confusion. They had no commanders to lead them out of the toils onto which they had fallen. A few more vollies, a new charge, a command to “die or surrender,” and 5,000 men are Sheridan’s prisoners. Those escaping were pursed by the fiery Custer, and they were pressed far into the desolate forest.
The Herald’s Washington special says a dispatch dated Spottswood House, Richmond, 8 P. M. Monday, says but little property was destroyed by fire, which was confined mainly to tobacco warehouses. The receallption of the union troops was enthusiastic beyond all expectation, proving that there were large numbers of Unionists in the city. Many Union flags were displayed yesterday on the anniversary of Grant’s taking command of the army in person at Culpepper [sic] C. H., Va.
[Third Battle of Petersburg]
HEADQUARTER POTOMAC ARMY, April 2.
The most important victory the Army of the Potomac has gained in Virginia was won to-day, and the outer-breastworks, which we have been trying in vain for months to overcome, has at last yielded to our victorious arms, and a greater portion of this army are to-night within a mile and a half of the city on the south-west side. The struggle made by the enemy to retain there works has been of the most desperate character, and for the success obtained to-day we are indebted, not only to the strategy exercised by the commanders, but to the overwhelming numbers and bravery of the troops that did the work.
The orders for an attack on the line cast and south of Petersburg, by the 6th and 9th corps, were carried out punctually at daylight, the artillery having been hammering away the greater part of the night along the entire line held by the above corps. Such a furious cannonade has very seldom been heard during the war, not even surpassed by that by which was heard on the occasion of the mine explosion in front of Petersburg.
The 9th corps troops engaged in action were the 2d and 3d divisions and Col. Sam. Harriman’s (37th Wisconsin) brigade of the 1st division. The charge was made in front of forts Hell and Rice, on the Jerusalem road, and were so far successful by 8 o’clock A. M. we were in possession of those fortifications, fort [sic] Mahone being the most elaborate and extensive. The works contained fourteen guns, some of which were at once opened on the enemy by men from our infantry regiments. Just inside and about one hundred yards from Fort Mahone was another work to which the rebels retreated, and from which they threw a most destructive fire upon our men, causing them to retire from the forts, when the rebels made a dash thinking to recover it entirely, but the guns on the right wing as well as in the center had been manned and shotted and to the assailants were driven back.
From this time till late in the afternoon, the struggle continued, the enemy making every effort to recover, while our men were as determined to retain possession.
About noon, the chances seemed that we should lose it, but soon after the Provisional Brigade, under Gen. Callis [sic],³ (formerly of the 7th Wisconsin,) the Engineer Brigade, under Gen. Benham [Henry W. Benham], with Gen. Hamlin’s [sic] Brigade, of the 6th Corps, came on the ground, and by their timely aid saved the gallant men in the fort from capture, and again caused the enemy to retire. The fire which rained on the ground and around the fort was of the most terrible and fearful character, and at dark the position of the contestants was the same as during the day.
Gen. Wilcox, with part of his division, made an attack in front of Fort McGilvery, near the Appomatox [sic], and took part of the line, but was soon after forced to retire to his former position owing to lack of supports. The loss of the 9th corps will reach from 800 to 1,000 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, among whom are General Potter [Robert B. Potter], commanding the 8th division, who is badly wounded in the groin, but not fatally, it is thought. This corps has taken 14 guns, about 200 prisoners and 2 battle flags. The latter were taken by the 211th Pa.
The 6th corps struck the enemy’s line in front near the celebrated lead works, and carried them with very slight loss. They at once pushed for the South Side road, which they reached about 9 o’clock, and in a very short time several miles of it were torn up and destroyed. They then moved on down towards Petersburg, driving the rebels before them across Town run, and into their inner line close to the city. They took a large number of prisoners, about 2000, and some 20 guns.
No attack on the inner line has been made as yet, as the position is a strong one, and will either be defended to the last or evacuated during the night.
The 9th Corps, holding the line north of Hatcher’s Run and south of the Duncan road, connecting with the 6th Corps on the right, and the 2d on the left, advanced at daylight and took the works in their front with slight loss. Over 1,000 prisoners were captured here by Foster’s [Robert S. Foster] and Turner’s [John W. Turner] divisions, under Gen. Gibbons [sic]. They were supported by the Colored Division of the 25th Corps, bu the latter did not get into action.
The 2d corps, who held this run, a mile and a half east of the Boydtown road and over a mile west of it, delayed advancing road until Sheridan, with the 5th corps, go within supporting distance on the extreme left, when the entire line moved forward, carrying the works almost without opposition. The enemy was found to have fallen back from this part of the line, owing tot he 6th corps cutting them off, they having reached the South side road early in the forenoon and were busy tearing it up.
This, of course, cut the rebel army in two, and two divisions thus caught between the 6th and 2d corps at once started across the south side road, toward the Appottomax [sic], hoping to be able to ford it and thus escape capture, but it appears they ran against Sheridan, and putting on a bold appearance made a show to fight. News to this effect reaching headquarters, two divisions of the 2d corps were at once sent to flank, and if possible capture the entire command.
Our losses during the day cannot be given, but is believed 2,000 will cover them. Many valuable officers are among the number, whose names, however, are not obtainable to-night.
Our captures will sum up about 9,000 prisoners and 38 guns, including those taken by Gen. Sheridan yesterday. The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded is not estimated, but in front of the 9th corps they lie on the ground very thick. They were mown down by the hundred at each effort to regain lost ground. Gen. Ransom [Matt W. Ransom] is badly wounded and a prisoner in our hands. He was found at a house on the Boydtown road, from which it was dangerous to move him. Gen. A. P Hill is reported killed by prisoners.
WASHINGTON, April 4.
All Sunday night, before evacuating Richmond, the rebels blew up their forts and rams in the James. There is a good authority for the statement that the rebel prisoners taken by Grant’s army will amount to 20,000. During Sunday night, the rebels fired and blew up buildings in and around Petersbug.
A passenger from City Point who left there early yesterday morning, says that late Sunday night our men commenced laying a railroad track from Pitkin’s Station to Petersburg, a distance of three miles, and also began throwing bridges over the river, the former ones having been destroyed, The work now in progress will establish the complete line ten miles from City Point to Petersburg. Only a few hours are required to establish telegraphic communication with all points.
Very little property was destroyed by the rebels in Petersburg, who, during Sunday night, made a hasty retreat. It was supposed there that Lee was endeavoring to escape by way of the Danville Railroad, and a portion of our army was following in that direction. Correspondence from City Point states that Lee has divided the remnant of his army, and is retreating in two small columns. Our prisoners at noon, yesterday, exceeded 25,000. The rebel destruction of property, on their retreat, utterly beggars description. Stragglers and deseerters are even in excess of what was anticipated.
1. Also known as the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Gravelly Run, Boydton Plank Road, and White Oak Ridge.
2. “Battle of Five Forks, Va.—Charge of Genl. Sheridan April 1st 1865.” This digital image is from an original 1886 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its Special Collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976), which includes a copy of this print.
3. The Journal is mistaking General Collis for John B. Callis, from Lancaster, Wisconsin. Callis was captain of Company F, 7th Wisconsin Infantry; promoted to major of the 7th (January 1863); promoted lieutenant colonel of the 7th (March 1863); wounded at Gettysburg; resigned December 1863 because of his wound; and appointed lieutenant colonel V.R.C. (February 1865). Callis was never a general.